Winning in Foxboro was always going to be difficult, and the Ravens did not hurt their playoff positioning all that much with the loss. The concerning aspect of the Week 14 autopsy is the lack of success on offense or defense. New England outclassed the Ravens in play design and execution. The only real bright spots were the offense’s success in converting short touchdowns after the fumbles and some well played third down stops by the defense.
FACT: The Ravens are 1-3 this season when Jimmy Smith does not finish the game.
OPINION: Cornerback is the biggest offseason need on defense.
When Jimmy Smith went to the locker room with a concussion in Week 6 against the Giants, Odell Beckham and the Giants went off for 20 second half points and a come from behind victory. When Smith’s back ailment did not allow him to suit up for the Week 11 tilt in Dallas, Dez Bryant’s hauled in two touchdowns in a 10-point win. And after Smith exited on Monday night with an ankle injury, the Patriots pretty much did whatever they wanted on offense, they averaged 9.5-yards gained per play after their first touchdown.
Tavon Young is already a good cover man, but with Smith’s predisposition toward injury, two capable corners are not enough to beat the best offenses. The Ravens sacked Tom Brady only once on Monday, but they did hit him seven times. The pass rush was not enough to prevent him from getting the ball out of his hand quickly and finding open targets.
Pass rush is great, but having multiple corners who can cover downfield and in the end zone are what makes the top defenses truly elite. For examples, look at what the Giants trio of cover corners did to Dallas on Sunday or the Broncos championship run last season.
FACT: The Ravens gained 9-yards on three plays while the game clock ran down from 4:04 to 2:07 on their final offensive possession.
OPINION: The lack of urgency on offense is unacceptable.
Flacco’s most infuriating flaw is his lackadaisical approach to clock management in the 2-minute offense. Monday was not the first time the Ravens have wasted precious time accomplishing little as the clock wound down to a loss this season.
Flacco’s other issues can be mitigated by failures of the players and coaches around him to do their part in helping Joe succeed. But as the franchise quarterback, it is his responsibility to take charge with the game on the line, snap the ball quickly and avoid settling for short dump-off passes in the middle of the field that have a negative effect on the chance to make a comeback.
FACT: Marty Mornhinweg’s playcalling led to 53 passing attempts and 13 rushes.
OPINION: This run/pass ratio gave was not that far off from giving the Ravens their best chance to win.
Going through the play-by-play, there were a handful of plays the Ravens threw on that were good opportunities to run the ball, but not many.
On their first run of the game, the Ravens were stopped on the ground for a loss and safety. On their next drive, they threw into the end zone once they were in field goal range. They were behind the sticks to start the second quarter, down and distances dictated passing. Once New England went up by 16 points, the game flow called for a heavy dose of passing, especially as time on the clock became a factor.
Against the Patriots, Baltimore earned thirteen first downs in the air, compared to three on the ground. Teams have to go with what is working, especially when playing from behind. A larger percentage of rushes is usually helpful, but this Ravens team needs to pass better earlier so they can run more later.
FACT: The Ravens control their postseason destiny.
OPINION: If they make it to the playoffs, they can still win it all.
Several pieces would have to fall into place, and we have not seen the Ravens elevate their game to a playoff level yet this season. Monday night was a missed opportunity, and we do not know for sure what they are capable of. But if Flacco gets hot like he did in 2012, Jimmy Smith is healthy enough to play well and the offensive line improves, they can beat every single team in the AFC on the road in the playoffs.
Barring an unexpected Pittsburgh loss, Baltimore will likely have to win out. If they can defeat the Eagles at home on a short week before securing back-to-back road victories against the Steelers and Bengals to close of the regular season, they will be a battle tested, dangerous playoff team by January.
The Ravens are a flawed team, fortunately the other 31 teams all have their own shortcomings.